Austin may be changing and I may be getting poorer, but luckily there are still cheap meals that can be found! Check out my list of fave $5 and under meals for when I'm broke, but too lazy to go to the grocery store or make food for myself.
If you're looking to live life Tarantino-style, then Texas Chili Parlor is a must! This sticky and crusty old-school joint was made famous by the ADD-riddled director's Death Proof, but continues to delight fans with their plethora of chili, cheap prices and colorful clientele. TCP always promises to showcase cowboys- political and not. Due to its proximity to the Texas Capitol, politicians and lawyers love to live out the glory days of Austin with some yummy XXX chili and whiskey. A great place to bring out-of-towners or to hang with the folks that make Austin so special. Anthony Bourdain made a stop here while filming No Reservations in Austin.
If you're used to the vinegary, shredded lettuce and white bun goodness of East Coast submarine sandwiches, Thunderclouds will put your taste buds at ease. This locally-owned chain offers quick and cheap subs, salads and soups with a smile and Austin hippie flair. You can never go wrong with a standard turkey or tuna fish sandwich, but it's gems like their Italian sub with homemade pepper relish that really make you drool. Always reliable and always fun, Thunderclouds is a great place to get a taste of old Austin.
How many restaurants can you think of where the entire menu is primarily $7 and under? This iconic UT-area eatery features vegetarian fare for cheapz. You can even go as low as $5 with their Thai Rice Noodles ($4.95) or Open Sesame ($4.50), though I recommend springing the extra dollar or two to try fan faves such as the Protein 2000 (not Outkast's newest album) with protein nuggets and broccoli or the Lucky Seven with fried tofu balls and veggies. This joint is pretty no frills, but the friendly staff, quick service and sweet $5 t-shirts featuring a very happy Asian child make this a must to recapture old hippie Austin.
Star Seeds was forever known as "that place" you went to after the bars closed, but recently their menu has stepped up (and luckily their prices haven't). Yes, you can get your typical greasy spoon fare, but if you're looking for a delicious salad with apples, pecans and apple cider vinaigrette or a vegetarian meatball sub before or after hours, this is the spot. She may not be as organic as her late-night equivalents (Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane) and she may be a little sticky, but she does the trick (no sexual double entendre implied).
As you can imagine, Austin is not the epicenter of seafood offerings. That is why we nautical fare-loving foodies celebrate this Austin institution. If you're looking for shrimp, oysters, fish- you name it- for your next dinner or party, Quality Seafood is the spot, but it's their $2 Taco Tuesdays that are the best bet. Choose from shrimp, mahi mahi or catfish prepared in various ways and with salsa options such as verde cream and mango pineapple pico. If you need a little drinky-drink with your cooked sea creatures, they also offer $2 domestic beers! Mr. Bourdain made a stop here while filming No Reservations in Austin.
Good banh mi in Austin is getting harder and harder to come by- luckily there's always Tam Deli. An Austin mainstay, this no frills Vietnamese restaurant features banh mi for under $5 and Pho for only slightly more. Check out their coconut drink with bits of coconut for a delicious treat.
If you dream of traveling to Paris, but can only afford to bike as far as Hyde Park, look no further than Dolce Vita. This whimsical little cafe offers large windows for people gazing, gelato for noshing and delicious coffee drinks for that morning or afternoon pick-me-up. Those things are all swell and dandy, but what gives Dolce Vita brownie points is their $5 happy hour sorberitas (gelato + booze = happy) and $5 lunch specials. Choose from their abundant list of paninis with side option for a fast and cheap lunch in a delightful European atmosphere (if Europeans had Texan accents and lots of tattoos and fixed gears).
When life has dealt you a financial blow, Arandas is where to go (I should go in the motto-making business). It's possible to eat multiple tacos for under $5 here. If you're looking for glitz and gloss, this is not the spot, but Arandas does the trick when you need to fill that hungry gut with meat and tortillas.
I'll come out and say it: P Terry's is better than In-n-Out! How do you like them apples, huh? Austin's very own natural, I repeat "natural" (looking at you In-n-Out), version of the iconic Southwest chain, P. Terry's offers yummy natural beef, chicken and veggie patties for well under $5 smackaroonies. If you get their single beef patty combo with fries and a drink ($4.95), you can still make it under your $5 goal! Open late and tasty, but like it's counterpart, you might wait in line for awhile.